Lincoln County Healthcare seeks to merge hospitals, retain $5 million in federal funding

Posted April 22, 2013, at 6:42 p.m.

BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine — Despite plans to close St. Andrews Hospital’s emergency room in October, Lincoln County Healthcare will seek to retain the hospital’s critical access status and $5 million in federal funding through a merger of St. Andrews and Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta.

Citing low patient counts and other financial concerns, Lincoln County Healthcare plans to close the hospital’s emergency room — the only one on the Boothbay peninsula — in October. After the planned closure, the hospital would become an urgent care center.

James Donovan, president and chief executive officer of Lincoln County Healthcare, said Monday that the proposed merger would create a “two-campus, critical access hospital” with one emergency room, at Miles Memorial, Donovan said.

The organization will apply to state and federal officials to merge Miles into St. Andrews, which holds critical access status. Under that scenario, the subsidies that come with that status would be extended to Miles, Donovan said. Alternatively, Miles and St. Andrews would merge into a new entity.

The change could provide an additional $3.5 million to $6 million in federal reimbursement each year, according to Donovan, reducing costs for patients with private health insurance.

Margaret Perritt, representing a task force that opposes the closure of St. Andrews’ emergency room, said Monday that the announcement “doesn’t really change anything” for those opposing the closure. Still, she said, retaining the critical access designation is important “for the continuation of a financially healthy hospital, which is what we have [with St. Andrews].”

After the closure, St. Andrews would become an urgent care center without an emergency room, inpatient services or the ability to accomodate critical care patients. Patients requiring ambulance transport no longer would be taken to St. Andrews, but rather to Miles or another hospital.

But Perritt said the distance to Miles is too far for a critically ill patient who lives, in the worst case scenario, on the tip of Southport island. An ambulance leaving Boothbay would have to pass St. Andrews, travel approximately 10 miles to the patient, then pass St. Andrews again and travel another 18 miles to Miles, she said.

“We would like to have a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week emergency room left at St. Andrews,” she said. “We are very much concerned about the loss of the emergency room and the 25 beds.”

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